Belief vs. Research-based Decisions

Health and wellness is more than diet and nutrition. It is a complex interaction of social, political, geographical, and economic factors. That is why it is crucial for governments to conduct extensive research before introducing or eliminating social programs created to address specific health and wellness needs. What is unacceptable, and abhorrent, is when governments cut proven programs disguised as fiscal responsibility, when, in fact, they are catering to either their corporate backers or religious base.

In Canada, the Harper government has systematically reduced or eliminated funding for federal programs and research facilities vital to the health and wellbeing of all Canadians. This has been well documented in the media and research journals: The Star, CBC, International Journal of Drug Policy, Nature and The Lancet to name a few. One such case that exemplifies the Harper government’s refusal to accept research-based programs in favour of their “beliefs” is safe injection sites for injection drug users.

I am going to reduce this to an incredibly simple argument. Vancouver’s safe injection site, Insite, has been proven to be an effective harm reduction program (Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2004; Lancet, 2005; Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 2006; New England Journal of Medicine, 2006; Canadian Medical Association Journal 2006; and Addiction, 2007). Opponents of the program have not produced any sound research to counter the effectiveness of Insite and safe injection sites. This was embarrassingly apparent in the unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision against the federal government to allow Insite to continue operation.

“The trial judge made crucial findings of fact that support the conclusion that denial of access to the health services provided at Insite violates its clients’ s. 7 rights to life, liberty and security of the person” (Supreme Court Judgment).

So, what did the Harper government do in response to overwhelming evidence supporting safe injection sites and a Supreme Court of Canada ruling, they created a set of “rules” to roadblock any future establishment of safe injection sites in Canada (Health Canada, The Lancet).

“Our government believes that creating a location for sanctioned use of drugs obtained from illicit sources has the potential for great harm in the community,” said the Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq.

Statements like, “our government believes” are not the same as, “research shows.” Their statements suggest that they are making decisions based on their beliefs and those beliefs are Christian. As Marci McDonald’s article in The Walrus makes painfully clear to secular Canadians, we are living under a Christian conservative regime determined to impose their distorted morals and ethics on all Canadians. Their faith – belief without evidence – is feeding brutal intolerance that causes harm to vulnerable Canadians. In the case of safe injection sites, this extremely vulnerable population is being blocked from proven care that aids in reducing preventable infections, deaths by overdose, and provides access to onsite addiction services. Their beliefs deny injection drug users access to health services and violate their “rights to life, liberty and security of the person.” This is a disgraceful position for our government to take based on unsubstantiated beliefs. I wish I could say they are breaking constitutional law, but we do not have a clear separation of church and state in Canada (Canadian Constitution). Maybe it is time we revisited this shortcoming.

When there is a proven strategy for a public health issue, all efforts have to be made to adopt, research, and refine methods to help as many at risk Canadians as possible. How can anyone, regardless of their beliefs, deny a fellow human being access to proven health and wellness programs?

Rodney Steadman 26 April 2014

Works Cited

Casselman A (2013). Changes to Canada’s fisheries law alarm biologists Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2013.14234

Hathaway A, & Tousaw K (2008). Harm reduction headway and continuing resistance: Insights from safe injection in the city of Vancouver International Journal of Drug Policy, 19 (1), 11-16 DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2007.11.006

McDonald M (2006). Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons: The rising clout of Canada’s religious right. The Walrus.

Kerr T, Tyndall M, Li K, Montaner J, & Wood E (2005). Safer injection facility use and syringe sharing in injection drug users. Lancet, 366 (9482), 316-8 PMID: 16039335

Simms C (2014). A rising tide: the case against Canada as a world citizen The Lancet Global Health, 2 (5) DOI: 10.1016/S2214-109X(14)70199-8

Webster PC (2013). Canada proposes new legal hurdles for supervised injection. Lancet, 382 (9903), 1477-8 PMID: 24191361

Whittington L (2013). Conservatives dismantling social programs built over generations. The Toronto Star.

Wood E, Tyndall MW, Zhang R, Montaner JS, & Kerr T (2007). Rate of detoxification service use and its impact among a cohort of supervised injecting facility users. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 102 (6), 916-9 PMID: 17523986

Wood E, Tyndall MW, Lai C, Montaner JS, & Kerr T (2006). Impact of a medically supervised safer injecting facility on drug dealing and other drug-related crime. Substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy, 1 PMID: 16722550

Wood E, Tyndall MW, Zhang R, Stoltz JA, Lai C, Montaner JS, & Kerr T (2006). Attendance at supervised injecting facilities and use of detoxification services. The New England journal of medicine, 354 (23), 2512-4 PMID: 16760459

Wood E, Tyndall MW, Montaner JS, & Kerr T (2006). Summary of findings from the evaluation of a pilot medically supervised safer injecting facility. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 175 (11), 1399-404 PMID: 17116909

Wood E (2004). Changes in public order after the opening of a medically supervised safer injecting facility for illicit injection drug users Canadian Medical Association Journal, 171 (7), 731-734 DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.1040774

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